In America, voters — not politicians — decide elections. And they did so in record numbers this year.
The projected results for many races including the White House are in, and Americans are celebrating their democracy. The final tally will come when all votes are counted, canvassed, and certified over the next few weeks.
Counting every vote is what makes us a democracy. Amid a deadly pandemic, millions of voters overcame obstacles to make it harder to vote — especially Black and brown voters. The president used the days following the election to threaten meritless lawsuits to “stop the count.”
Contrast his legal actions with those of organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Common Cause and many others.
Many of these lawsuits have had one goal: To vindicate the freedom of every eligible voter to cast a ballot securely, without risking their health during a pandemic. In fact, litigants have filed more than 380 lawsuits in 44 states on this issue.
Twenty years ago, the Florida “butterfly ballot” debacle led to the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore ruling that decided the 2000 presidential race.
Once the dust settled, it underscored the need to invest in election infrastructure so that an outcome wouldn’t teeter on “hanging chads” and poor ballot design.
Congress responded with the Help America Vote Act, setting some minimal standards on voting systems and investing $3.5 billion in making the mechanics of democracy more resilient.
COVID-19 and the hundreds of election-related lawsuits again lay bare an urgent need for fair, commonsense, national standards for election administration.
We elect one president to lead our country — but under 51 different procedures (for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia). These rules vary extensively. Your options shouldn’t depend on your zip code. Some voters had much easier access to the ballot than others.
For example, voters in some states had to register weeks before the election. Voters in 21 other states could register on Election Day itself. More than a dozen states have implemented automatic voter registration, a system that is more secure and cost-effective.
Some voters who cast ballots by mail faced an Election Day deadline for the ballot to be received by officials. Elsewhere voters only needed their ballots postmarked by Election Day.
We should all play by the same fair and equitable rules. That includes expanding access to the ballot box so that everyone’s voice can be heard.
Here are just some of the ideas for national solutions: at a bare minimum, no voter should have to provide an excuse to vote-by-mail.
And for voters who need the option to vote in-person, they ought to be able to do so with ample opportunity during a uniform early voting period and on Election Day itself, with voter-verified paper ballots to ensure sound and secure outcomes.
There is a lot to learn from states that automatically mail ballots to all registered voters, too.
No voter should be required to risk their or someone else’s health to find a witness or a notary to sign their ballot when an oath will do.
There should be one deadline to mail a ballot and mailing it should be free. Drop-boxes should be available for everyone. Voters should be able to track their ballots, just like a package they order online.
And if there is any discrepancy with a ballot — for example, a missing signature — election officials should contact the voter and give them plenty of time to “cure” the discrepancy.
Voter registration should be automatic, with same-day voter registration as a useful fail-safe for anyone who had to move or were purged from the rolls.
These are just some of the solutions in effect throughout the country, in red states and blue states. Building on their success, the House of Representatives passed versions of these solutions last year — In H.R. 1 (the For the People Act) and H.R. 6800 (the Heroes Act).
The House also passed H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, to stop racially discriminatory voting practices before they’re implemented.
Some claim that states run our elections. That’s true.
But under Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution, Congress has the authority to regulate how states run those elections. It was the source of Congress’ authority to pass other national voting laws, such as the National Voter Registration Act and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.
As we emerge from the pandemic, access to democracy must remain a priority. Our lives, our families, and our community depend on it.
This year’s record turnout shows the pent-up demand of the people for elections that work of all of us.